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What Is a Service Catalog?

Posted by on May 23, 2018

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Introduction

Formalized with the publication of ITIL v3 in 2007, the establishment and maintenance of a service catalog has become standard practice across IT departments in large organizations. Large, multi-functional companies require continuous IT support for their operations, and the service catalog acts as a bridge, connecting users in the business to the services and support that IT delivers.

Whether presented in a spreadsheet, word document, or as part of an online service portal where users can request services, a service catalog allows users to access the internal IT services they need to stay productive. For IT departments, the catalog provides service delivery instructions that ensure requests are thoroughly completed. Just like in a furniture store, the service catalog acts as a “showroom” for services that the user wants, but IT has the parts and instructions necessary to deliver on user requests.

In this article, you’ll learn more about service catalogs and how they help organizations increase their efficiency and reduce costs by streamlining IT service delivery.

The Structure of an IT Service Catalog

An IT service catalog is an organized, searchable, digital presentation of the services that your company provides. The contents of the catalog can be sorted into groups, and while IT services will be the most common, other types of services can be included as well. The overall goal is to create a single source of truth for your organization—a directory where anyone can go to find out how to access the organizational service they seek in a timely fashion.

The service catalog has two sides—one side that faces the customer (or the employee), and one accessed exclusively by your internal IT department. Here's how they differ:

Customer Viewpoint - the customer typically accesses the service catalog through a web-based service portal that could be accessible through your company's website or on your intranet. The customer viewpoint is meant to present services in everyday terms that are simple to understand, so technical jargon should usually be left out. Business end-user and/or employee customers visit the catalog when they need to request service and also when they are having problems with a service, so each entry in the catalog should ideally provide access to knowledge including specific guidance that helps dealing with potential issues.

Technical Viewpoint - the technical viewpoint of the service catalog is accessible exclusively by your IT department. Since many of the services will be provided by IT, the technical viewpoint should include documentation of what steps are required for delivering each service to the customer. Other items to include are:

The service catalog may exist independently, but it should be tightly integrated into the web-based portal from which employees and managers can access it. The goal of the service catalog is to improve organizational efficiency by quickly connecting employees and managers at your company with the IT services and human resources they need to effectively carry out their roles.

How to Create an IT Service Catalog

Developing and managing a service catalog for your business can streamline processes, save you time and money, and improve your resource allocation. Here's how to get started:

  1. Identify the services you will offer in the catalog - the most important and most difficult part of creating a service catalog is identifying all of the services that your business needs to run. This is best done as a collaborative process that incorporates feedback from leaders of several business units. It is useful to think of services in terms of "service requests" rather than "service offerings." You can also reference earlier service requests to get a sense of the kinds of queries that your service catalog will handle. An agile approach can also be applied in building out your service catalog. Start with most critical or common items first, and extend over time.
  2. Define access, permissions, and approvals - it's great if every employee at the company can access the service portal when they have an IT-related request or issue, but administrators need to set permissions so that certain types of service requests can only be approved or made by managers. For example, it's probably okay to let employees submit Printer Maintenance requests, but a request for expensive new replacement hardware should be approved or made by a manager.
  3. Streamline search - some catalogs list services alphabetically, others categorize them by type, and some contain a search function that lets users find the information they want using relevant keywords. However you choose to organize your catalog, your users need to be able to find the answers to their questions quickly and efficiently.
  4. Build the portal - now that you have your services listed and organized, the next step is to build a tool that allows users to access the catalog. A web-based portal hosted on your company intranet does this very well. It is already high accessible and highly visible to employees, so everyone will know where to look when they need to request IT support.
  5. Test system functionality - start by offering support for a limited number of services within a small proportion of your overall user base. Like any new software rollout, you'll want to do some early testing to ensure that the system is effective and functions how it is meant to. Once you've ironed out any issues, you can begin offering a wider spectrum of IT services to a broader group using the web portal.

Most organizations will have many categories of services that they must offer—software, networking and connectivity support, hardware support, printing, voice and video conferencing services, and more. The more comprehensive you can make your catalog, the more reliable it becomes as a resource where your staff can access support from your IT department.

How Does an IT Service Catalog Help?

An effective IT service catalog can be the first place that an employee goes when they need to request a service or get support for an IT issue. The catalog is easily accessible through the employee's own computer or mobile device using the web-based IT service portal, and the information is searchable and well-organized. The employee can quickly find the service they need within the catalog, request the service, report an issue, or determine what steps they could take to address a service delivery issue.

On the technical side, your IT department benefits significantly when the use of the IT service catalog is widespread. Users can request service through a service portal itself, and automated processes can be used to notify approving managers and IT service staff of what items need to be addressed to deliver the requested services.

Organizations that use service catalogs save vast amounts of time by ensuring that employees can be readily connected with the services they need within the organization. The best part of IT service catalogs is that they act as a catch-all for service inquiries—whether a manager is requesting space for cloud storage or an employee is requesting a replacement keyboard for their desk, they can both access the service catalog to determine the fastest route for getting the request approved and fulfilled.

Some organizations include HR or facilities requests in their service catalog, making it even easier for employees to claim bereavement leave, report a sick day, request changes to their benefits plan, and more.

Conclusion

A service catalog streamlines processes throughout your organization by centralizing and streamlining service requests of all kinds through one accessible portal that keeps your IT or human resources department connected to all of your staff. An excellent service catalog ensures that everyone in your business has access to the timely support they need to function effectively in their roles. 

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